Basil Rathbone

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Basil Rathbone
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

Philip Saint John Basil Rathbone (13 june 1892 - 21 july 1967) was a British actor, born in Johannesburg (South Africa), where he lived until age of 3, his family had to leave in 1895 to England because his father was accused to be a British spy during the Boer war. He discovered the stage during his school days at Repton School in London, but his father wanted a more "serious" job, so he started as an employee in an insurance company. However, he played since 1911 in Shakespeare plays in a theatrical troupe directed by his cousin, Franck Benson.

During WW1, he engaged in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment. He won the Military Cross for his bravery. After the war, he came back to stage and played in several plays which met success, then he started working for the cinema in the United States where he settled definitively in 1934. He played in many movies, often in bad guys' roles, for example in as David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936, in the role of Tybalt, which earned him a nomination for Oscars) or also The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Basil Rathbone is best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in 14 movies between 1939 and 1946, with the understanding that in 1939, when he was 47, he had vainly offered his services to his country to fight in the war. The series began with two hits in 1939 for Fox : The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Fox decided not to continue after these two films. By october 1939, however, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, who played Dr. Watson began the recordings of The (New) Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the radio adaptation of the adventures of detective written by Edith Meiser, then from 1943 to 1945 by Denis Green and Leslie Charteris (under the pseudonym Bruce Taylor), and then from 1945 to 1947 by Denis Green and Anthony Boucher. Edith Meiser resumed in 1947 adaptations these adaptations were aired until 1946, and then continued, but with Tom Conway in the role of detective.

Meanwhile, Rathbone and Bruce worked with Universal and played Holmes and Watson in 12 sherlockian movies (in fact pastiches far from the original Conan Doyle stories) : Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943), Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943), The Scarlet Claw (1944), The Spider Woman (1944), The Pearl of Death (1944), The House of Fear (1945), The Woman in Green (1945), Pursuit to Algiers (1945), Terror by Night (1946) et Dressed to Kill (1946).

Tired of Sherlock Holmes and not willing to be associated to this character (but in reality, the damage was already done), Basil Rathbone decided in 1946 not to renew his contract for radio adaptations, and move to New York with his second wife, Ouida Bergere (born Ida Berger), whom he married in 1926 and then had many successes both on Broadway (and he won in 1948, the Tony Award for best actor), in the movies (especially horror films with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre) and television (he played on 26 may 1953 once again the role of Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Black Baronet, with Martyn Green in Watson).

That same year 1953, he played the detective on stage in Sherlock Holmes, written by his wife Ouida Rathbone, but that was a cursed piece Nigel Bruce was too ill to take the role of Dr. Watson, and had been replaced by Australian Jack Raine. Nigel Bruce died on 8 october 1953, during the final rehearsals, which reached the morale of Rathbone. The play was badly criticized by the New York critics, it was played only three times.

In the late 50s, Basil Rathbone got a one man show entitled An Evening With Basil Rathbone, in which he told his memories and reciting literary texts, show with which he toured in the United States. In 1962, he published his memoirs, well written, entitled In and Out of Character. Basil Rathbone died on 21 july 1967 of a heart attack at the age of 75. His last film, released after his death in 1968, was Autopsy of a Ghost, a Mexican horror film of low budget. Basil Rathbone has three stars on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame Hollywood Boulevard, one for his film career, one for radio and one for television.